Us + Sandra Bland vs. The State

Jeannine A. Cook
16 min read

“Call the motherfuck….Call the….”

I make out muffled screams from outside. Barely there. From the comfort of my bed, I ignore. People on the block yelling is nothing new. Under covers, face in phone, I press play on CNN’s video report of Sandra Bland’s arrest during her traffic stop in Waller County, Texas. But instead of watching yet another over-edited rendition of the incident for my documentary studies class, I press a link to read the actual transcript.

We live on a mattress on the top floor of my boyfriend, who I call my love’s, row home in North Philly while I finish college. Our room is the only one left. Every other room in our house is grit and studs and bones and people’s junk and dead decaying mice and shit-stained toilets. Even still, we saved up and hired a graff writer turned fine artist to paint murals of Egyptian hieroglyphs on all the walls inside of the house. We hijack electricity from our next door neighbor Lisa, the unapologetic smoker, who thankfully never has any trouble paying her electric bill.

 

Excerpt of transcript of Sandra Bland’s Arrest, 2015

State Trooper Brian State Trooper Brian Encinia: Hello ma’am. We’re the Texas Highway Patrol and the reason for your stop is because you failed to signal the lane change. Do you have your driver’s license and registration with you? What’s wrong? How long have you been in Texas?

Sandra Bland: Got here just today.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: OK. Do you have a driver’s license? (Pause) OK, where you headed to now? Give me a few minutes.

State Trooper Brian Encinia returns to his car for several minutes, then approaches Sandra Bland again.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: OK, ma’am. (Pause.) You OK?

Sandra Bland: I’m waiting on you. This is your job. I’m waiting on you. When’re you going to let me go?

State Trooper Brian Encinia: I don’t know, you seem very really irritated.

Sandra Bland: I am. I really am. I feel like it’s crap what I’m getting a ticket for. I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket, so [inaudible] ticket.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: Are you done?

Sandra Bland: You asked me what was wrong, now I told you.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: OK.

Sandra Bland: So now I’m done, yeah.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind?

Sandra Bland: I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?

State Trooper Brian Encinia: Well you can step on out now.

Sandra Bland: I don’t have to step out of my car.

 

“…what the fuck up…” Lisa the Smoker is always in arguments with people on the block. So the barely audible—this could be nothing but another of her fights with bitches who better have her money or need to get the fuck out her face or have her all the way fucked up. I pay her no mind. Instead, I get up to take a number two. Because we don’t have a “bathroom bathroom,” number two means a plastic bag, a water bottle and a stack of Andre 3000 ice cold baby wipes. It means going into the hallway holding a bag close to a shivering booty and remembering that roses really smell like poo poo-oo. I am almost through when I make out the rumbling from downstairs more clearly.

“Call the opppppps. Ask for the whiiiiiiite shirts,” she says.

My heart sinks into my stomach. I place my bag of roses on the floor, use the baby wipes and throw everything out into an alley on the side of our building. Then I get my barefoot-running, bra-top-wearing, silk-pants-sporting self to the front of the house again to poke my mostly naked upper body out the window.

Louder now, I can make out My Love saying my name. “Gee.”

The police officers him surrounded like Neanderthals hunting. He is parked in front of our house, attempting to explain that he lives there. His animated arms flail alongside words that I can’t make out clearly. I hear enough to know he’s talking about the car’s tinted windows. Across the street, my neighbor, Mr. Mack, a blind blues singer who blasts sixties music from his big boom box, turns off James Brown’s “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” and goes inside.

As Mr. Mack slams his screen door, a burly Black officer with a medium-sized fro and oversized belly grips My Love and pulls him from the car by the wrists. He flings My Love firmly against the side of our car—holding his head to the glass and knees him in the lower back. Another officer, who has an actual red neck, holds his hillbilly billy club up to My Love’s face with threats I can’t make out. Blood rushes through my fingers. Tears rush through my eyes.

 

Other neighbors half hang from their windows watching now, including Mr. Mack.

I yell at them, “Stop that shit you motherfuckas.” I spit a loogie out the window and then rumfle through the sheets looking for my phone. I call the cops on the police.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Uh, My Love. He uhmm.” And of course my phone is on 2 percent. I use sheets to wipe dry my eyes. My swollen fingers keep losing their ability to grip.

“Ma’am where are you? Are you in immediate danger? Ma’am?”

I’m in and out of my purse looking for the dumb-ass charger. Back out the window, an army of navy blue ants are circling My Love. They force him to kiss the ground. The burly Black officer barks, “Stop resisting, boy. Stop resisting,” as the others take turns hammering into My Love’s head, neck, and spine. A pre-vomit taste fills my mouth.

“Geeeeeeeeee,” he yells, lifting his head slightly before catching a fist full of boot in his mouth–one of his legs pretzeled towards his head.

“Ma’am are you still there?”

I put the phone back to my ear. I pause for too long. I have water for legs. I am annoyed by the operator’s monotone voice.

“Yes. I’m here. I’m calling ‘cause the police. The police are here jumping my motherfuckin’ boyfriend. It’s like 35 of these sons of bitches. They are stompin–”

“Yes, ma am, we already got that call. We’re sending back up immediately. Tell him to stop resist–”

“Lady, he’s not resisting at all. He couldn’t if he tried.” I have water for a throat.

“Ma’am, we are aware of the situation and will respond according–”

I bang on her and snatch my 35mm Nikon off of the disheveled bed. Still barefoot, I stagger and stumble down the snagger-toothed flight of stairs, running my fingers along the wall’s painted wings of Maat. When I open the front door there are no smokers chatting, no kids playing tag, no drug dealers hovering. There is no room on the sidewalk for anyone not dressed in uniform. I weave through the crowd of blue bellies towards the sound of My Love’s grunts and cries.

 

 State Trooper Brian Encinia: Step out of the car.

Sandra Bland: Why am I …

State Trooper Brian Encinia: Step out of the car!

Sandra Bland: No, you don’t have the right. No, you don’t have the right.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: Step out of the car.

Sandra Bland: You do not have the right. You do not have the right to do this.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: I do have the right, now step out or I will remove you.

Sandra Bland: I refuse to talk to you other than to identify myself. [crosstalk] I am getting removed for a failure to signal?

State Trooper Brian Encinia: Step out or I will remove you. I’m giving you a lawful order.

Get out of the car now or I’m going to remove you.

Sandra Bland: And I’m calling my lawyer.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: I’m going to yank you out of here. (Reaches inside the car.)

Sandra Bland: OK, you’re going to yank me out of my car? OK, alright.

State Trooper Brian Encinia: I will light you up! Get out! Now! (Draws stun gun and points it at Sandra Bland.)

 

“What are you doing here,” a super-short Asian officer says, grabbing my arm. I look down at his tiny ass, snatch my arm back, and roll my eyes. Walking backwards, I snap a photo of him and duck between two cars. These motherfuckers have really let this power shit go to their head.

Seeing my position, Mama Birdie, my play-play Auntie on the block, calls out from her window in patois, “Him riy deh.” She points me to the left.

I snap her finger-pointing photo and head in that direction only to see My Love’s face runs flesh to the street. It is a lumpy bouquet of dark reds and deep blues.  I go to snap his photo, but someone yanks my camera strap. I turn around and this hot-breathed, pink-faced officer is like, “Lil’ girl, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

So now I’m full of adrenaline and a breast-beating chest. And the voices in my head are telling me, Fuck it, you here now. You might as well go all the way. This is my house. Do it for Harriet. Do it for Ida. Do it for Malcolm. Do it for Marcus. But while I’m giving him the death stare, chest heaving, he grabs my Nikon and throws the camera on the ground–stomps it one time with the heel of his boot.

“Oh, fuck no…” I’m not with the shits.

I lean down to grab it, and he knees me in the back. He holds me down on the ground with both his hands and calls for a female officer—any female officer. While my breasts and bare belly are buried in the concrete, I look up and a kind of beautiful female cop comes over. She has full hips, thick thighs, and a neatly manicured wig. She stands me up, pats me down, and asks me questions.

“What’s your name?”

No one has read me my rights and I don’t have to say shit.

“Gee.”

“Is this your house, Gee? Can we search it?”

I don’t respond.

“Do you know this young man?” the beautiful thick-thighed officer points at My Love.

I don’t respond.

“See what the two’ve you’ve done here?” she says patting her wig.

I don’t respond, and for the first time I notice my blood coming from beneath my bare feet. My neighbors are yelling and flailing their arms, and spitting, and jeering, and cursing and the crowd of dirty cops.

“Can I get my shoes?”

She doesn’t respond and instead begins, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before…” She puts my hands into cuffs.

Her voice trails off when I duck into the back of her police car. We sit there a while waiting for the flashing lights on cars that line the street to clear out. I look over and see My Love’s limp body as they attempt to pick him up. I bite the insides of my cheeks to hold back tears.

“That was so stupid,” says the beautiful thick-thighed officer. “Why would he do this shit? And here your dumb ass go, following right behind him.” She continues talking to herself while I watch My Love dragged to the backseat of a police van in leg irons and I can’t feel my toes.

“Fuck the police,” I say just loud enough for her to hear me.

“What was that?”

I don’t respond.

 

Bland: I can’t go anywhere with your fucking knee in my back, duh!

Encinia: (to bystander): You need to leave! You need to leave!

(Bland continues screaming, but much of it is inaudible)

Encinia: For a warning you’re going to jail.

Bland: Whatever, whatever.

Encinia: You’re going to jail for resisting arrest. Stand up.

Bland: If I could, I can’t.

Encinia: OK, roll over.

Bland: I can’t even fucking feel my arms.

Encinia: Tuck your knee in, tuck your knee in.

Bland: (Crying): Goddamn. I can’t [muffled].

Encinia: Listen, listen. You’re going to sit up on your butt.

Bland: You just slammed my head into the ground and you do not even care …

Encinia: Sit up on your butt.

Female officer: Listen to how he is telling you to get up.

Bland: I can’t even hear.

Female officer: Yes you can.

Encinia: Sit up on your butt.

Bland: He slammed my fucking head into the ground.

 

Alone in the holding cell, I walk on foreign liquids that I imagine are a mix of urine, spit, blood, cum, or snot. And then, sit down on a wooden bench to look at my bare feet. They are black with gook, crusted with blood.  I can hear the officers going back and forth in the hall as I put my feet up on the bench to lie down on the cell’s cold, damp, solitary bench.

 

“These bitch-ass niggas…”

“Fuck they think this is…?”

Laughter.

“If he just woulda stayed down…”

“Now if I woulda shot his dumbass…”

Laughter.

“And did you see the lil’ bitch running around trying to snap pics…”

“Like what is this? The Museum of fuckin’ Art?”

Laughter.

 

At 4 a.m., 6 hours since I called the police, I am told through my cell bars, that I am being released to call someone to pick me up. I ask where My Love is, and the thick-thighed Black woman with the perfectly manicured wig doesn’t respond. Instead, she paints on dark purple lips. I am not from Philly and don’t have any family here, so I call the only number I have memorized—the number of a pastor I met once in front of Wayland Temple Baptist Church.

“Hello, godbless,” Pastor says as he pretends not to have been asleep.

“Hi, Pastor, this is Gee…uhh…I met you a while ago in front of the…”

“You okay, Sister Gee?”

“No. I am at the 22nd District police station, and I need to be picked up.”

“Say no more.”

He arrives in minutes. Walks me slowly to his car.

“Sister Gee, the Bible says…a hard head makes a soft ass.”

I smile. “No it doesn’t, Pastor.”

“It says, if ye runneth into a legion of police-th, runneth in the otherest direction.” He smirks.

“Well, it also says, let my people go, Pastor. Didn’t Moses say let my people go?”

And then there’s nothing to smile or laugh about.

“Any word on where your friend might be? Does he need to be picked up too?”

I have no clue. My body is one big ache. My stomach and wrists are raw from rubbing against handcuffs. When I get home, I tow my battered feet upstairs and pour bottled water over them, letting the dirt, blood, and filth drip through cracks in the hardwood. I call police stations and hospitals, trying to find out where My Love is, with no fucking luck. I fall asleep under the watchful Eye of Rah.

 

Encinia: Come over here.

Bland: You about to break my wrist. Can you stop? You’re about to fucking break my wrist! Stop!!!

Encinia: Stop now! Stop it! If you would stop resisting.

Female officer: Stop resisting ma’am.

Bland: (cries) For a fucking traffic ticket, you are such a pussy. You are such a pussy.

Female officer: No, you are. You should not be fighting.

Encinia: Get on the ground!

Bland: For a traffic signal!

Encinia: You are yanking around, when you pull away from me, you’re resisting arrest.

Bland: Don’t it make you feel real good don’t it? A female for a traffic ticket. Don’t it make you feel good Officer Encinia? You’re a real man now. You just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground. I got epilepsy, you motherfucker.

 

I wake up to Lisa arguing out front. “Cause that smut Jawn already know what it is…”

My phone rings and it’s My Love’s nana. She shares that he’s been located at Temple Hospital and says if I want to see him, I should go now. I take a water-bottle birdbath and rush out, and when I arrive at the hospital, tubes and bandages and tape and cords run in and out of him from every direction. His room is white and icy like a morgue only with bright lights and constant interruptions from the nurses. On the radio next to him, Kendrick Lamar laments, “We gon be aight.”

One of many nurses walks in behind me and shares in a clinical tone that My Love is in a coma and underwent multiple extensive surgeries in an effort to save his life. My mind is water.

“He arrived at the hospital with three fractured vertebrae, injuries to his voice box, and his spine 80 percent severed at his neck.” She washes her hands and leaves.

I take the shoes off of my throbbing feet and lie down under the covers on the mattress next to him. I take out my phone and finally finish reading Sandra Bland’s transcript when I swear I hear him whisper, “Gee.”

And then the police walk in.

 

Video of Sandra Bland during a 2015 traffic stop in Texas surfaced Monday. The recording shows Bland’s confrontation with a combative officer. Bland was found hanging in a jail cell three days later. Bland’s family back in Chicago was never satisfied with the aftermath of the case. The perjury charges against the trooper were dropped in exchange for an agreement that Encinia would never work in law enforcement again. In an interview Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, called for Texas law enforcement to reopen the case.

 

 

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